With smart cards, SEPTA poised to take the lead over other transit systems

New York City’s MetroCard is celebrating its 20th birthday. Meanwhile, Philadelphia has remained on the slow lane, sticking with tokens as payment for rides on SEPTA buses and subways.

But SEPTA plans to change that later this year.

Philadelphia will soon make a big leap, said Matthew Mitchell, president of the Delaware Valley Association of Rail Passengers.  “What’s happening with the SEPTA plan is they’re going to completely skip the generation of cards that New York and Washington have been using,” he said.

Mitchell said SEPTA is going directly to the new open payments model “where, besides having the option of using a system-branded ‘smart card,’ a SEPTA card, you’ll eventually be able to use any regular credit or debit card that has a chip encoded in it.”

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Soon, Mitchell said, you may never have to stand in line for tokens again.

SEPTA General Manager Joseph Casey too is looking forward to the day Philadelphia leap frogs over other cities. He said the new payment technology that’s slated to be introduced in Philadelphia later year will be a big deal.

“Chicago has a plan now that they’re instituting but we’ll be the first transit agency that has smart card throughout all modes of its transit. We’re excited about it and it’s cutting edge and it’s certainly beats the token.”

Casey asked for patience. “We’ve been through some testing and we still have to do a pilot program before we roll it out to the public. Bottom line is we want to make sure the system works before we roll it out. So we’re still in the testing phase.”

Casey, who said he realizes that the new system is a long time coming, said SEPTA wants to make sure the system works correctly before it’s introduced.

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